CHARLOTTE, N.C.—After months of back-and-forth bickering, both sides in the ongoing United Steelworkers of America/Continental General Tire Inc. labor dispute will finally meet to air their grievances against each other. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has decided to hear unfair labor practice charges filed by the USWA and Conti General stemming from the nearly 10-month-old strike at the company's Charlotte radial passenger tire plant. No hearing date has been set.
According to reports received by both the union and company, USWA Local 850—whose 1,450 members walked out Sept. 20—will face charges of violence and illegal behavior on the picket line. Conti General will answer complaints of failing to provide information to the union and engaging in unlawful surveillance of union activities.
Charges of failing to bargain in good faith filed by both sides were dismissed, said Michael Polovick, Conti General human resources director.
The NLRB also will investigate five additional charges that the firm did not provide information to the union. When it said in April it would hear those complaints, it dismissed 19 other charges, the company said.
Mr. Polovick, who said the company had not received official word on charges from the NLRB as of June 30, added that the board also dismissed 10 other charges against Conti General. The company is confident the allegations against it won't be upheld, he said.
Conti General gave the union the information it requested, Mr. Polovick said. Surveillance of striking union members using security and video equipment was done only in response to illegal activities in the first day and a half, he said.
``It was justified because of the unlawful acts being committed,'' Mr. Polovick said. ``We had the right to do it.''
The union, however, is banking that an NLRB ruling against Conti General will translate the work stoppage into an unfair labor practice strike. If so, the USWA claims the company's permanent replacement of employees since the strike began also would violate the National Labor Relations Act.
The company claims the strike always was about economic issues such as wages, pension, cost-of-living adjustments and scheduling, Mr. Polovick said.
Conti General believes the NLRB is ``sending a message'' to both sides to resume negotiations and end the strike. Both parties indicate they want to return to the bargaining table, but haven't talked to each other since March 16.
Meanwhile, the union's activities against CGT cranked into high gear the week of June 21 with protests at Ford Motor Co. dealerships in 61 U.S. cities during that week as it tried to apply pressure on the tire maker through its customers.
At least three car dealers—two in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and one in the Chicago area—sent letters to Ford executives asking the auto maker to discontinue using tires from Conti General until the strike is settled.
But Mr. Polovick said Conti General believes its customers understand the economics of remaining competitive and employing a union work force.
The USWA and its global affiliate, the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, also organized union protests at German consulates in the U.S. and Australia, and a two-hour solidarity strike at a Continental A.G. tire plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, by members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa.
Conti General continues to increase tire manufacturing levels in Charlotte, relying on a replacement work force of about 900 to boost production to more than 70 percent of pre-strike capacity.
About 750 of the replacements are permanent, but the firm said in March it would hire only temporary workers because of indications some strikers wanted to return to the plant.